It’s common to see black creators in the comic book industry showcased and their accomplishments publicly credited every February. But nearly a year after the world was rocked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of police and the global protests that followed, this Black History Month strikes differently.
Since then, businesses across all industries have faced the harsh reality that their spaces may not be as inclusive as they thought. Many companies, including comic book publishers, have made a public commitment to change, but change is difficult. It’s even more difficult when the battle is to tackle systemic racism in the midst of a pandemic-induced recession. A comic book store owner, comic book publisher and journalist were tired of waiting for the industry to catch up. So they created The 2020-2021 Black Comic Book Community Access Guide to help retailers, consumers, libraries and more find and support black writers, artists and designers.
The past year has been a tough time for everyone, including independent publisher and founder / owner of Any Comics Dimitrios Fragiskatos, who constantly wondered if his little Brooklyn, New York store would financially survive the year. . Fragiskatos’ longtime friend Joe Illidge had even more pressing concerns. Former editor-in-chief of Valiant Comics and current editor-in-chief of Fantastic Comics Magazine Heavy metal spent most of the spring and summer battling COVID-19 after he and his wife contracted the virus. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, cultural journalist George Carmona (Comics, Narazu) and his wife made the difficult choice to live apart so that they could care for their elderly parents and avoid the same fate.
While recovering, Illidge kept an eye on social media as the creators of BIPOC suddenly gained attention. After years of working in relative obscurity, black creatives have seen their works viewed, scripts read, and arguments heard. But many questioned whether this was a permanent or fleeting change, including Illidge, who publicly commented that changes must be commitments and not just empty words.
By the end of the summer, unlike many companies, Any Comics had made a profit from a combination of frugal spending and the generosity of a few loyal customers. Fragiskatos decided to put his money where it was and publish a guide to Black Owned and Created Black Comics to help creators, publishers, comic book shops and libraries find their way. He pitched the idea to Illidge, who loved it, and came on board as editor. The couple then brought Carmona on board to help with writing and research, and The Black Comic Book Community Access Guide was born.
As fans of the HBO show Lovecraft Country, the team compares the guide to the “Safe Negro Travel Guide” featured on the show (based on real life Black motorist green book, a reference guide that helped African Americans travel safely across the country during the Jim Crow era).
The 160-page guide includes a foreword written by Arielle Johnson (founder of Amalgam Comics and Coffee) and four chapters covering comics and creators, publishers, shops and conventions owned or published by Black people. black designer work in printed form. in 2020 and Q1 2021. This includes both Marvel and DC as well as smaller indie prints.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Fragiskatos, Illidge and Carmona to find out how they chose what to include, how they are going to create a new guide every year, and why they aren’t making a dime in profit.
How do you think your book will help both black designers and the industry as a whole?
Joe Illidge: It introduces all of these creators and their works not only to customers but also to businesses and libraries. This is a far reaching book from a practical business standpoint. When he goes out if [a publisher] always says “we just can’t find black designers”, so they’re complicit.
Dimitrios Fragiskatos: As a store owner, a guide for my customers that broadens their tastes helps [my bottom line]. If I can introduce them to new creators and characters, then I’m not so dependent on the whims of Marvel and DC.
You compared this guide to the original Green Book, which was written to save African American lives. So, what do you feel like saving the black community with this book?
George Carmona: When you see a creator’s name in the comics, the default is that there is a white person behind that name. We must spare ourselves from it. We have to re-educate ourselves from this. When you see a name in our book, the person who wrote that comic is Black. We put a face to these names and help inspire a new generation of designers to see each other.
Illodge: When I was working at Lion Forge, leading the Catalyst Prime footprint, there was an incident at a Diamond Distribution Retailers Summit. These events allow publishers to make presentations to retailers prior to launch. A colleague of mine was handing out cards at the presentation and a retailer took the card and cut his teeth with it. Right in front of us. The store of this type is not a safe space for black consumers. It’s not a safe space for black comics. So from my point of view, this book prevents people from entering territories that are not welcoming to them.
How do you think the guide helps the perception of the work put forward?
Illodge: It’s about bridging the gap between readers and creators. Most people think black excellence started with the movie Black Panther, but it’s more than that. Check out Roye Okupe’s YouNeek Studios contract and what he just accomplished with Dark Horse. This guy has been around for years to publish books, get the job done, and how many people really know Malika: warrior queen Where EXO: The Legend of Wale Williams?
Fragiskatos: Our book, while having an ethnic orientation, is a book aimed at a wide audience. And this is something that we are convinced will be seen through the educational circuit.
With so much great work, how did you decide what was included in the book?
Carmona: So it had to be a book that was published in 2020. So from January to December, then in the first quarter of 2021. There are webcomics that we wanted to include, but we had a [time constraint] and we were focusing on the printed comics that were going into stores.
Illodge: We were operating with a time limit because it was important to us that the book comes out in the first quarter of this year so that it has validity for a period of time. Eventually this issue will expire and we will be working on the next book. Also, the three of us did it with a little help in our free time.
Fragiskatos: We did our best to criticize and represent as much as we could. But there is no directory for comic book solicitations and deliveries except for Diamond. The more independent and obscure stuff is going to be difficult. We kind of conceded early on that ultimately getting the book out was a priority.
If this book is successful, are you using the profits for book 2021?
Fragiskatos: We are not making a profit on this book. I want to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to commodify the black comic book community at all. That’s why all the proceeds will go to the Dwayne McDuffie Fund after you pay for the printing and everything. We are working on how we pay for the next one as we speak. Maybe it’s a Kickstarter.
Illodge: What I can say is that we have generated a lot of interest in this book from various parts. And so we’re now discussing what the next book will look like and how we can build on what we’ve been doing this year.
What are you looking forward to putting in future editions of this guide?
Carmona: It is a living document that will constantly evolve and change. There are so many resources. In fact, there is a page at the end of the book that is for people who want to contribute to the next book.
Illodge: We will certainly expand into other media. With the future book and in terms of categorizations.
Fragiskatos: We have not had a convention this year. So we’re definitely exploring how people connect and find new outlets to show their work, like maybe podcasts, blogging, etc. We also want to work with and highlight different marginalized communities in the future.
What surprised you the most about this project?
Fragiskatos: How many black-owned comic book stores there are in this country. I was surprised.
George: I’ve had no idea RZA made a comic strip.
Illodge: I have certainly learned more conventions. There was the handle that I knew, but there were so many more. It was also quite heartwarming to read the sentiments of the various retailers, like all those origin stories about how and why people started their comic book stores.
The Black Comic Book Community Access Guide will be available from February 17th.